Original article from China Economic Weekly

Translation by Ren Zegang


China-Arab States Expo 2017, a three-day trade event, was hold in Ying Chuan city, Ningxia Hui (Muslin) Autonomous Region in Northwest China in Sep 2017. Many state leaders, ambassadors and 43 ministers from Arabian countries and senior representatives of international organisations have attended this event.

In the opening ceremony, Mr. Khartoum, assistant secretary of Arab League, set off a simulated high speed train running in a huge screen through a simulator. Beside Mr. Khartoum were the top executives of major Chinese railway companies such as China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) and China Railway Group Limited (CRGL).

Having staged for 7 years, China-Arab States Expo has for the first time set promotion of Chinese high speed railway as its keynote this year aiming at reinforcing the connection among countries along the “new silk roads”. There is a huge room to upgrade railway technology and infrastructures in Arabian countries which are rich in oil supply.

In his comments, Mr. Khartoum acknowledged that China’s technology on high speed railway is internationally advanced. Arabian countries are hoping to benefit from Chinese high speed railway development.

Such a desire comes against a background that China and Arabian countries have reciprocally become major trading partners. Such cooperation will definitely to grow as Arabian countries are strategically located in key regions to which China’s “belt and road” initiative is targeted.

In 2016, the total value of trade between China and Arabian countries was US$171.14 billion, of which China’s export to Arabian countries was US$100.84 billion while China’s import from Arabian countries was US$70.3 billion. The contracts undertaken by Chinese companies on infrastructural projects in Arabian countries reached to US$40.37 billion in 2016, an increase of 40.8% from previous year.

To the Chinese railway corporations, Arab region is an extremely important market. Yang Zhongming, vice chief engineer of CRCC and Chairman of China Railway International Group Limited, emphasised that China has accredited technology and experience in building and operating high speed railway in harsh environments from high hot, very wet to very cold. Such technology and experience are very helpful to Arabian countries in railway development.

This is echoed by director of engineering department of Egyptian National Railway , who expressed that Arabian countries are particularly appreciated the Chinese technology in building and running railways through desert regions which is a norm in many Arabian countries.

China Railway Croup Ltd has branches in 15 Arab countries, the total value of contracted projects is more than US$ 12 billion. Having recently opened the Arabic language website, CRRC corporation limited has their railway transportation equipments covered most of the Arabian countries. Power Construction Corporation of China has signed contracts with various Arabian countries worth of US$25.8 billion.

The  “Ramadan Suburban Railway Project” signed between CRGL and Government of Egypt which is to build a passenger railway connecting Cairo with its satellite cities is the first major contract between China and Egypt. This is considered a major success of the belt and road initiative.

In accordance with Jordanian Ministry of Transport Secretary-General Alma Hesawa, Jordan is expecting to have a fruitful cooperation with Chinese railway corporations in implementing plans linking Jordan with Egypt, Iraq  and other countries through railway networks.

Muhammad Kadi, chief engineer of the National Railway Administration of Morocco commented that the signing of high-speed rail cooperation memorandum indicates a  full scale cooperation between China and Morocco in high speed railway development. Such cooperation will cover the phase from designing, technological development, construction and to cost management.

Chinese companies have also actively taken part in Turkey’s Ian high-speed railway, Saudi Mecca light rail project, Mecca-Medina high-speed railway and a number of other railway projects in Arabian countries.

World Bank report “China High Speed Railway Analysis” points out that the cost of Chinese corporations in building high speed railway is about two third of that in other countries; the price of railway ticket is only one fourth or one fifth of other countries.

The railway from Addis Ababa city to Djibouti, which was opened in October last year, is the first modern electrified railway system built by Chinese companies with compete range of Chinese standards from designing, equipments, construction, finance and operational management. This project has become a business card for Chinese corporations expanding their market share in railway projects overseas.

The adoption of Chinese railway standards in East Africa indicates China is no longer a newcomer in Arab region in railway development. Now Chinese corporations are aiming at extending their market domination through offering more value added services such as technological consultancy and finance.

Wang Wenzhong, vice president of China Railway Group Ltd proposed to assist Arabian countries in sketching blueprints for their railway development. Wang said the active participation in feasibility study, environmental and social evaluation should help Chinese companies to preserve more prospective projects. In particular he mentioned that new methods supportive to the participation of private capital in financing the railway projects overseas should be arranged.